Historic Aircraft Display Day at Catalina's Airport in the Sky
Catalina Island Conservancy
A new attraction for Catalina Island is in the making up at the Airport in the Sky. If all goes as planned, the Historic Aircraft Display Day, will turn the airport into an aviation showcase. There, residents and visitors will be able to see vintage aircraft parked up close and personal, and even talk to the pilots a safe distance from the runway.
"Pilots love talking about their planes," said Mike Sullivan, President of the Catalina Aero Club. "Those aircraft are their pride and joy."
The inaugural Display Day was held last Saturday, December 17, with a monthly exhibition schedule still under discussion. Fifty aircraft flew in over the course of the day. "The response was overwhelming," said Sullivan. "I was shocked to see so many people. It was very exciting."
Aircraft on display included a Nanchang CJ6 Chinese training plane, piloted by Craig Ekberg; a T-34A Beechcraft Mentor military trainer aircraft, and a Thorp T-18, homemade (or experimental aircraft) piloted by brothers Chris and Brent Schultz.
Under certain conditions, the display of aircraft 35 years or older gives owners a California State tax exemption that helps with maintaining their vintage aircraft.
"Airplanes are expensive to keep up," said Aero Club Member Craig Ryan who coordinates the event. "We are one of the few countries in the world where the public can actually own airplanes. The State doesn't want these historic airplanes to be scrapped, they are part of not only our history, but the history of aircraft in the world," he said. "Because these older planes need a lot more maintenance, the State provided the tax exemption."
This renewed interest in aviation on the Island came along with the recent formation of the Catalina Aero Club, a support group of the Conservancy. For an annual membership of $150, pilots get unlimited landings at the Airport for one year, discounts on Wildlands Express transportation to and from Avalon and the Airport, discounts on camping, and an annual Freewheeler bike pass. Aside from the free landings, the benefit that really impresses potential members is the free "Killer Cookie" from the kitchen of the DC-3 Gifts and Grill restaurant at the Airport with a minimum purchase of $10. "You say "Killer Cookie" and you've got them," Ryan says.
Sullivan said he is looking forward to the Historic Aircraft Display Day to become a destination for residents and visitors. "With security so tight at many airports, it isn't possible for young people to get up close to an airplane, especially a plane that has flown during World War II, or an aircraft from another country, he said. "Here at the Airport in the Sky, the planes are very accessible to the public. Kids can develop of sense of wonder by being so close to them and be able to actually talk to the pilots," he said. "That's how I became a pilot. I hung out at the airport when I was a kid."